In Episode 16 of Earned, Conor chats with a man who knows the ins and outs of the beauty industry: Reuben Carranza, CEO of Kate Somerville—the influencer-beloved skincare brand that garnered $17M in Earned Media Value (EMV) from January to October 2020, an impressive 77% year-over-year surge.
While Reuben is currently powering growth for one of the industry’s top skincare brands, he previously led the charge as president of cult-favorite haircare brands Olaplex and R+Co, and prior to that, was CEO of Wella North America at P&G. Additionally, Reuben is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Professional Beauty Association.
In the episode, we dive into Reuben’s learnings from his 24-year corporate career at P&G, and hear how and why he transitioned to leading a small, independent brand like R+Co—and the challenges that came with such a move. We gain more insight into the success behind R+Co and the rest of parent company Luxury Brand Partners’ portfolio of artist-driven brands, before learning why Reuben joined Olaplex’s team and how he helped double the brand’s business in just one year. Reuben then reveals his leadership and marketing philosophies, and shares the four most important questions for DTC brands to keep in mind. Conor and Reuben close the episode by discussing influencer marketing at Kate Somerville, which Reuben deems the “biggest key to [the brand’s] success so far.” We learn about founder Kate Somerville’s active role in fostering relationships with influencers through her clinic, and hear how the brand worked with online content creators to virtually launch its DeliKate product line this year. Finally, Reuben emphasizes how the brand’s genuine “heart-to-heart connection” with its influencer family has become even more important in the COVID era.
We’ve included a couple discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, listen to the podcast below, or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
Reuben Carranza’s Leadership Philosophy
Reuben: You hear the wives’ tale, “you get more flies with sugar,” and it’s true. If you create an environment that is challenging, it’s fun, and there’s respect—and respect isn’t just being nice, respect is also having the courage to have tough conversations, and having the courage to hear tough feedback from your employees—what I found was, those environments created much more acceleration than others. When I finally got to a place where I was leading an organization, I was like, “I want to be a member of an organization that I would want to be a part of, even if I wasn’t the leader.”
“It was a story that needed to be told, but by people who truly believed in the brand”: Why Kate Somerville Started Investing in Influencer Relationships
Conor: Obviously you guys have decided that influencers are important for Kate Somerville, considering the (EMV) numbers are skyrocketing. What made you come to that conclusion and what do you think has driven your success there?
Reuben: It was very much a choice. When I entered the brand, I entered at the same time my CMO Simon Geraghty entered. He’s a great business partner and he and I had the same kind of “aha” [moments]. Here was an incredible brand with an incredible founder who was still actively involved, an incredible story, a history of great products, an active medi spa clinic where we were seeing patients, but the PR had really died down to zero, and candidly, [the brand] had really missed the boat when it came to influencers. We knew that it was a story that needed to be told, but it needed to be told by people who truly believed in the brand and bought into the brand.
So it’s not to say that paid influencers weren’t going to have some kind of a role, but the whole brand was built by Kate, and when she started in the clinic, she had Paris Hilton and all these celebrities who were coming in because of the treatments, but who also loved the brand because they felt connected to the brand. So we felt like that authenticity, and creating a relationship with the influencer community, was going to have to be part of how we approached [our marketing strategy]. And that was the decision. We brought the right people to the team who brought relationships, but also understood that this was about creating that kind of community. Listen, a lot of brands do that, we’re not unique in how we do that, but I would say that I think the genuine nature and the focus on the relationships with our influencers has been probably the biggest key to our success so far. As we move into 2021, our focus is not only continuing to do that, but also the repeat—keeping the influencers as part of the family and feeling comfortable. So it was a choice.
“They were connecting with the founder and then with the brand from the heart”: How Personal Clinic Time with Kate Helped Grow Influencers’ Passion for the Brand
Reuben: The early part of our journey, at the end of last year and the beginning of January before the COVID shutdowns, was really getting that curated group of influencers, where they were able to not only experience the brand, but have time with Kate—to hear Kate’s story, to hear Kate talk about the products, to hear Kate’s philosophy. Quite honestly, it was less about the products and more about hearing Kate’s philosophy around skincare. People who have skin troubles, it affects their entire being. If you can help someone correct their skin, you help them with their whole life. So there was that whole inspirational piece of it. That probably was the strongest thing we were able to do with the influencers we started working with, because they were connecting with the founder, and then with the brand, from the heart.
When [the influencers] went and experienced what we could do in the clinic, and how those clinic services transpired into some of the products, that’s when it started to make the connection between the heart and the mind. Now they understand why this isn’t just marketing hubbub. And then they started making it their own, and that’s when you’re in the holy grail—when they’re starting to talk about the product as part of who they are and how they operate.
As we’ve had to deal, like every brand, with not being able to do face-to-face, we’ve had to be connecting with [influencers] through boxes and virtually, and quite honestly, as silly as it sounds Conor, I would say the biggest thing my team does, which I’m so proud of them for, is we just keep the relationships going. There’s conversations and communications that happen without any product conversation, because if you get to a point where [the influencers] feel like you only talk to them when you want them to push something, and that you don’t really know who they are or care about who they are, that’s when you get into danger. Our brand, led by our founder, has always been about that heart-to-heart connection, so it’s a natural extension of what we’ve tried to do with our influencers, and during this time, it’s been one of the things that’s been really important.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts to catch up on our other 15 episodes, featuring brands like ColourPop, INH Hair, Glow Recipe, The North Face, and Huda Beauty.